"Work, sweat, blood and tears" may be underpinning Lucie Safarova's charge up the rankings, but she's making sure to have some fun along the way.
WTA Staff

Boiled down, here's the plan for Lucie Safarova: work hard, don't forget to smile, push on after winning the biggest title of your career, work some more, smile some more, keep on believing and keep on going.

Safarova's sunny, amiable coach, Rob Steckley, is of the view that it takes plenty of "work, sweat, blood and tears" if you are to achieve "one moment of potential glory", but that you should always remember to have some fun along the way: "Be it, feel it, love it - just don't forget to smile."

There's much for Safarova and Steckley to grin about at the moment after the 28-year-old Czech defeated Victoria Azarenka in Qatar for her first Premier-level title - that was a moment of real, not potential, glory, and it propelled her to a career high of No.11, and on to the leaderboard for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global (she's in 10th spot, chasing one of eight places). It's perfectly possible - given that she and Bethanie Mattek-Sands are at the top of the doubles list after scoring the Australian Open - that she could qualify for both singles and doubles fields at the season-ending finale.

"Good things come to those who enjoy the process and who make friends along the way," Steckley, who has worked with Safarova since 2012, said in an interview with wtatennis.com.

"There's no doubt that [Safarova winning the Doha title] proves to us that we are doing something right. We have been enjoying it every step of the way. An achievement at this level means the world to us. As athletes, that's what you work for. You spend countless hours trying to figure out what are the best ways to improve, both physically and mentally. That's true not only for the player but also for the coach, who goes through this process a bit with the player. At least that's the case with me," the Canadian disclosed.

Listening to Steckley, it's clear that his bond with Safarova has been at the center of this story: "Lucie and I have a great friendship and not only do I help her to improve as a player, but she helps me grow as a coach. So to slowly reach all of our goals together is something really special. I'm pretty sure that there are a few coaches who would like to trade places with me. A career high in the rankings is always something that keeps you extremely motivated and with that motivation you accumulate all these results along the way. As your ranking improves, so do the results."

Steckley isn't one to over-complicate matters. He strives to keep things simple for Safarova, so avoiding unnecessary "stress" for the player. "We try to keep a simple mind. We just focus on how we can improve as a team and don't stress too much about how quickly we need the results. We both believe that this approach works best for us. I think that's my carefree attitude playing a role. With a Grand Slam doubles title in the first month of the season and now this singles result, that only gives us more motivation to keep things simple. It has definitely told us: 'Keep going'."

Indeed, why stop here? Among Safarova's ambitions for the year is to break into the Top 10, and to end that season in that elite group. As Steckley noted, that would almost certainly require another deep run into a Grand Slam, such as when Safarova appeared in her first semi-final of a major at last season's Wimbledon. "The semifinals at Wimbledon were pretty special. We both just want to keep improving as a team and enjoy whatever new achievements come our way," Steckley said.

That victory in the Middle East wouldn't have happened if Safarova didn't believe in herself and in Steckley. Asked where he would like to see improvement in Safarova's game, Steckley responded: "If Lucie keeps on believing in herself, we will be just fine. I have her trust in what we do which is very important and is every coach's dream with a player at this level, but it ultimately comes down to the player when they step out on court.

"I think players tend to get impatient very quickly. I try to have Lucie continue to stay in the present with everything she does - and I'm not just talking tennis here, but everything she does in her day. This helps her to stay relaxed, and we all know that girls who are relaxed tend to smile a bit more, and a girl that smiles is a beautiful thing. Needless to say, the more she unlocks this way of thinking, the more we can tackle making improvements in her game."

On the way to the Doha final, Safarova defeated Sam Stosur, Ekaterina Makarova, Andrea Petkovic and Carla Suárez Navarro. "I always know that it's going to be a good week when I confidently sit back and watch Lucie set points up with a purpose, which is something we have been working on for a while," Steckley said. "That takes the pressure off her shoulders during the rallies because she is aware of what comes next. That gives her the ability to play more freely. By playing every point with purpose, the match is in her hands.

"She had her game in place, but it was her mind that helped her to this victory. I've watched her grow in this department as we've improved aspects of her game. Ultimately, a win helps the mind grow and believe. Some players gain belief quickly; in Lucie's case, she's like a fine wine. It's taken longer than people expected but I think we are finally coming to see a well-developed player."

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Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secrets of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury, May 2015).